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Steve Zahn: scene-stealer! The greatest roles of the War of Planet of the Apes star


Renowned for his goofy oddball, pothead and sidekick roles, Steve Zahn is about to become your new favourite primate as Bad Ape in War for the Planet of the Apes. To get you in the mood, here's a selection of his greatest performances…


Richard Linklater's comedy-drama, adapted by Eric Bogosian from his play of the same title, follows a bunch of '90s slackers hanging out at a strip mall parking lot waiting for the return of an old pal-turned-MTV rock god.

As part of a fine ensemble cast, Zahn steals the show in one of his trademark sidekick roles as the excruciatingly unbearable pothead rollerblader, Buff.

Out of Sight

Zahn steals every scene he's in with a great comic performance as a hapless whinging pothead (do you see a theme developing here?) with an aptitude for car theft in Steven Soderbergh's crime comedy vehicle for George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez.

Happy Texas

Zahn gets a rare co-starring role in this comedy about a pair of escaped convicts. They inadvertently find themselves impersonating gay beauty pageant consultants who've been hired to co-ordinate a hopeless entry for the Little Miss Fresh-Squeezed Pre-Teen Beauty Pageant.

Zahn steals it once again as the splendidly named Wayne Wayne Wayne Jr. Resembling a refugee from the Doobie Brothers - all shaggy barnet and droopy moustache – his slow, inarticulate Wayne is at first utterly traumatised by the precocious little girls who expect him to “know stuff” but soon wins their confidence by cussing, offering them cigarettes and teaching them how to fight.

His performance won him a Special Dramatic Jury Prize for Best Comedic Performance at the Sundance Film Festival.


Nominal stars Paul Walker and Leelee Sobieski don't stand a chance up against Steve Zahn in this Duel-style suspense flick directed by John Dahl and co-written by the young JJ Abrams.

Zahn plays Walker's feckless, jailbird older brother who goads a lonesome trucker into exacting violent revenge. He's on top form as this loveable, twitchy, trouble-magnet bozo, bagging most of the film’s remarkably plentiful funny lines.

Best Steve Zahn moment: when he expertly recreates for the benefit of the police the sound of a man's jaw being ripped off.

Rescue Dawn

Warner Herzog's first Hollywood film is based on the true story of German aviator Dieter Dengler, who was captured by the Viet-Cong and held captive in a grim POW camp.

This is clearly Christian Bale's film, but Zahn is also on fine form in a powerful dramatic role as frail, malnourished fellow prisoner Duane, who explains to scoffing Dengler why their easily escapable bamboo cell isn't the problem: “The jungle is the prison. Don’t you get it?”

Strange Wilderness

After Rescue Dawn, Zhan returned to tussle with nature again with this silly comedy in which he plays the no-good loser son of a respected wildlife documentarian who sets out to save his low-rent Strange Wilderness TV show by tracking down Bigfoot.

It's by no means a classic, but there are many laughs to be had from his unremittingly stupid voiceovers to wildlife footage: “Bears are a proud people," he intones solemnly. "Although they’re not people, per se. They’re animals.”

Later he remarks that, “No matter how many sea lions are eaten by sharks each year, it never seems like enough,” and “Sharks can only be found in two places on earth: the northern and southern hemispheres.”

A Perfect Getaway

Zahn excels in a very much against-type role in this slick backpacker psycho flick from David Twohy. Why's it against-type? That would be a major spoiler. Just watch the film for yourself.

Stuart Little

For an example of how Zahn can excel even when he's just using his voice, look no further than Stuart Little.

As the wily Monty, he's one of a trio of cats who steal the show by supplying a welcome antidote to the prevailing tone of candy-coated rodenty schmaltz.

You can “see” more of Steve Zahn in War of the Planet of the Apes, currently screening at Cineworld.

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